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11 May 2018 @ 05:40 pm

And then a powerful piece of the One was ready to meet the judge.

They walked down the slope and into the trees. Under the trees. Great huge oaks, their limbs arching out and dropping to form cave-like spaces. One with fortified walls that might keep out wolves, but not bears.

Rael touched a wall of three inch branches and felt the shield within. Or maybe it will keep them safe. This feels like Xen’s work.

Jeb was staring up into the tree. “I’ve lived in the desert too long.”

Ytry snickered. “Wait till it rains. You’ll change your mind.” He dropped his gaze and frowned at the three people eyeing them warily.

Jeb sighed and turned away from the tree. “Mental modeling. Fairly light on the tall ones, but they’ve seriously damaged the . . . this would be the judge, right? Yes, I don’t think we can get him back, but at least we should be able to deal with the compulsions.”

Hummer walked closer, peering at the Judge as he recoiled. “What are all those odd dull spots all over his brain?”

“That’s that seemofazing.” A woman—One! What was Paer doing here!—walked in behind the priests, Jiol and Inso behind her, more people peered through the door, then retreated.

“Xen says it’s a ribozyme that attaches to nerves and muffles the transmission of information.” Rael stepped closer to Paer, not that she was assigned to protect the president’s daughter anymore, well former president, but . . .

“Hmm, that would explain why I couldn’t find a chemical suppressant.” Paer bit her lip. “They still have the pellets in their shoulders. They’re aggressive enough that their not having magic sounded like a good idea.”

Jeb nodded.

Rael could feel the soup of power building up among the priests, lumpy and odd. “You know Ytry, they call it a compass because it’s round.”

He shot her an irritated look. “Yeah, yeah. I guess it doesn’t matter when you’ve got a couple hundred priests, but it looks like we’ll need the symmetry here. Bossy Redhead . . .”

Rael stepped out the door.

All the Renshe, Karl . . . “Nighthawk? I didn’t know you were here.”

A flash of teeth. “Lon thought that perhaps someone who can open and close corridors and gates ought to be on hand. I volunteered.”

Karl—back in Disco grays—nodded. “They’ve all behaved, so far. Even the Judge.”

Mike hunched his shoulders. “The Judge is . . . unreliable. One day he wants you dead, the next he just sits and cries all day.”

“But more crying than killing, especially the last couple of days.” Sam sidled up and looked through the door.

Rael glanced in, to her inner eye the power was still limping along.

Ebsa was talking. “ . . . in small groups. Maybe I should . . .”

“No. I will.” Ajha stepped into the ring of men. “You two keep your eyes open for unusual attack modes.”

Hummer stepped back, looking irritated. “No women in compasses! Ridiculous.”

Rael nodded. “The Fallen witches work in triads. I’ve worked with Q . . . hmm . . . I wonder if we could do it without any witches, just Oners?”

“Really? Three women . . . sounds dangerous.” She walked out and eyed Jiol, and then Nighthawk. “Now you are impressive.”

Nighthawk’s brows lowered. Jiol’s rose.

Rael choked back a giggle. Oh, less impressive than a young Witch! The Insult! The Very Idea!

Jiol’s glare switched her direction. :: I heard that, Young Lady! ::

Rael giggled. “We should give it a try, later, after the guys are done.”

Ytry stomped out the door. “We’re done. Those dull spots are blocking our efforts to even examine the mental modeling. Paer’s removing those hideous pellets, One knows how long it will take for the effect to wear off.”

“Oh, I’ve got something to speed that up. Be right back.” Nighthawk jogged off up the path.

“So . . . that’s a Comet Fall Witch? How interesting.”

Rael eyed her. “You do realize, don’t you, that that is the young woman you tried to murder fourteen years ago?”

“Murder?” Hummer frowned. “I’m quite certain I’ve never felt that mind before.”

“Well, those things happen when you fail to clear the methalformaline out of the mind of someone appealing to the highest moral authority for justice.” Rael knew she was failing to keep both voice and glow under control. “Politics, control, revenge . . . have no business in a religion.”

“Well . . . I’m sure you realize that the One has been about politics and control from the start. We didn’t take over Islam because of our morals.”

A snort from Ra’d as he walked past. “Pack of child molesters.”

Hummer turned and glared.

“Humph. Such an angry young man.”

“Yes.” Rael eyed the priest. “I am glad that you have stopped. There are plenty of people who desire power and control, and will join you willingly, so long as you don’t castrate them and crush their minds.”

“Heretics! The lot of you!”

“Oh, now you’re going to hide behind religion?”

A snicker from Ytry as he walked up and eyed them. “Hummer? Don’t take your ire out on other people. Especially people who can kill you if they decide you need killing. Most bullies have enough sense to pick on the weakest.”

Hummer looked indignant. “I was not bullying, I was arguing. With people who can hold their own and not be cowed by the One.”

“Here, you aren’t the One. You’re a powerful magician among a lot of other magicians. Behave.” Ytry looked past her.

Nighthawk trotted back down the trail, carrying a bottle with a handwritten label.

“The new improved Joy Juice.” Rael grinned. “Ought to force feed you and Hummer.”

Deathly glare from Hummer.

Ytry just shook his head. “Bad Girl, introduce me to these new friends of yours.”

Her new friends had retreated well away from the argument, and were standing around the crawlers. And eyed Ytry cautiously as he followed Rael.

“Don’t worry guys. Ytry’s one of nice Priests. Ytry, this is Sam Chou, former head of a large research center. A biologist and genetic engineer. And Michael Watson with his daughter Cali. Dr. Watson is a, well, magical engineer. Jerry Thorne and Connor Johnson are his lab assistants.”

“And all four nice and glowing. These Exile Worlds!” Ytry shook his head. “And Early Diaspora colonies with magic as well! Every time we turn around, the Multiverse has gotten bigger.”

Rael glanced back where all the visitors were leaving the forest. “Looks like we’re done for the day. I hope to One we’re camping, not going back to Disco.”

Jeb groaned. “We’re camping. We’ll give that version of Joy Juice a few days to work before we try again.