He set up the corridor and stepped through. No sign of Karl or the guard. He turned and ducked through the next corridor.
Guard on the ground, Karl frowning down at a cringing Poobah. He glanced at Xen, then returned his glare to the judge.
“He ordered the guard to kill me.”
“Good grief.” Xen stalked up and added his own glare. “Rael says they’re so mentally modeled that they aren’t safe. I think we’ll help them set up camp near the river, and not take them home with us until we decide we can trust them.”
Karl nodded. Pointed. “That line of trees? The river is just beyond it. Get walking. We’ll send the rest of the guards when we find them.”
Xen nodded. “Sic’em, Army officer.”
Karl shrugged. “How about throwing a corridor south about fifty miles and I’ll try to find the next one. Then you can return to hovering over Rael. How badly is she hurt?”
“Not badly. Little slices and pinpricks. As if tortured. I haven’t asked yet.” He eyed the judge, shrugged and stepped away to throw another corridor. Pinned it on both sides, and left Karl climbing a hill for a look around.
Rael was unwrapping her fingers.
“I won’t say it’s working as well as usual, but it is finally working.” She grinned and ran her fingers up his bare arm.
“Let me look.” He grabbed her fingers kissed them . . . the number of nerve blockers had dropped but his ribozymes were still hunting them down.
I wonder if I have blockers? Except my problems are . . . bloody hell, those things aren’t in my brain are they!
He tapped the inside of her elbow and nabbed a dozen assemblers in the vein. They’re multiplying with the alcohol available to fuel them. He pulled them through the tissues and then pushed them into his own blood stream. Checked. Some with the new blueprint, some regular. Good enough.
“Hey! Are you stealing my joy juice?” Real grinned. “Didn’t think I’d ever need to dose you.”
“Just a tiny bit, just in case I need them . . . Oh yeah, they’re all over this mess.” He touched his chest.
She ran a hand down his chest.
“Behave, that’s the joy juice kicking in.”
Then he touched his head and took a look.
Nerve blocks all over. Scattered, with several notable clumps. He looked at a nearby blood vessel, snagged a ribozyme and shoved it in between brain cells and watched it grab a blocker and start eating.
No wonder doing magic is so hard. Are they wearing off gradually or is my brain adapting and working around the blocked neurons?
His eater started in on a second, and then a third block, with no sign that it might attack his brain, so he started hunting down assemblers with the new pattern and shoving them into the highly blocked areas.
Xen looked large . . . and could see the glow of the soil from the bacteria in it. Bright pinpricks of insects, and beside him, a jagged throbbing glow.
It’s working. There no—well not much—permanent damage.
He opened his eyes. “All right. My experiment on myself isn’t disastrous so far. Would you like some of my special nerve-blocker-eaters in your brain?”
Her eyes widened. “Eep! Yes please. Nerve blockers?”
“Ribozymes very much like we use. These glom onto nerve cells and muffle the nerve impulses. I think the interference with the joy juice repair nanos was unintentional. But they are messing up the healing. And I think they’re doing the same thing in our brains, damping down to signal.” He chased a few eaters and a pair of assemblers out of the blood vessels of her brain. Generally, the ribozymes didn’t have trouble crossing the brain-blood barrier, but the assemblers? Maybe not his best idea.
He leaned against the tree and snuggled Rael up next to him. Closed his eyes and half-dozed. Watching the molecular warfare in his brain and hers. Feeling her growing glow, reaching out and feeling the bright spots swirling around his treehouse, feeling Karl, now down by the river with three dull spots.
Should I help those messed up, mind-molded men? Or leave them, so they are only dangerous physically?
He pulled back and sat content. Glowing. Ignored the bubbles everywhere.
And herded the Eaters back into his bloodstream as they finished off the last nerve blockers. Let the assemblers eat the last of the alcohol—can’t possibly be good for me—then herded them out as well.
Checked Rael, and did the same.
“So. I suppose I should go find the rest of the guards. And take you home.”
“Yeah, take me home so I can get you out of those tight leather pants.”
He pulled off his moccasins and held them out to her.
“Pants, not shoes, damn the effect of that wine. My feet are healed. And a lot smaller, you over-sized lummox.”
“But not as tough as mine. I wouldn’t do it for anyone else. Tender foot.”
“Ha! Tender heart.” She took them and snickered a bit at how large they were. “Right, so, what’s the plan?”
“Unless Karl has a better idea, I’ll escort you through some corridors to my home-sweet-home and then reclaim my shoes and go consolidate the judge’s guards.”
“Ha! Afraid to leave me alone with six big tall men?”
“Spikey, the way I’m starting to feel, I’m afraid to leave me alone with you.” Xen grinned. “But fear not! My treehouse come with a rainbow of bachelors, from probably aged twenty to possibly a hundred.”
“Ah . . . Xen, why don’t I just stay here while you go deal with the guards?”
“Umm, because I’m terrified something horrible will happen if I leave you all alone?”
“But then I won’t be pissed next week when . . . Umm.” Snuggled closer. “I keep chickening out on asking you . . . about having a baby . . . “
Xen paused . . . snuggled back. “Once we are out of here. And once we are sure there’s no nerve blockers left that might affect a baby . . . Yeah. Now, let go of me and let’s go see what’s going on.”
“So, so, why didn’t I throw myself at those nasty-but-handsome cops?”
“I can’t imagine my dad making something that would make someone go all gooey in a threatening situation.” He extricated himself from her embrace and stood up. Reached down and pulled her up.
“Huh. Shows he never went to Princess School.”
“The mind boggles at the very idea.”
She was still giggling three corridors later, but sobered as they walked into the camp Karl was attempting to set up.
“. . . not going to happen. You will fetch water for yourselves, collect firewood and such. We will provide you with food while you learn to hunt for yourselves.” Karl flicked a glance their direction and back to the guards, as if he expected to be attacked.
“Ah, good to see you getting them set up. Shall we go find the other four?” Xen heard his cheerful tones and managed to shut up.
“Good idea.” Karl backed way. Xen steered Rael back through the nearest corridor.
“Yeah. The little jerk is terrified and not acting rationally.” Karl shook his head. “I did not mention the possibility of removing the Death. I’d rather they didn’t have any magic.”
Xen nodded and looked south. “One, two, three, and four. There they are.”
“Xen . . . are you drunk?”
Rael giggled. “I drank a bunch of the Joy Juice before I was caught, about four days ago. Now that that Death thing is out of my system it’s kicking in good. And Xen snatched some of the assemblers right out of my blood stream. So he’s drunk too.”
“The Death leaves, left . . . leaves stuff behind and I finally realized I could make a thing that breaks it down into alcohol, to feed the assemblers. So, we’re drunk and I’ve got a lot of power back. Watch this!” He grabbed a bubble and threw it right in front of the nearest guard.
They both stood there looking at him.
“Oh, right. Open it.” He pinned this side, stepped through and opened the far side, without even stepping on the limp guard.