“Death of Magic.” Rael was grinning. “A nasty implant between the shoulder blade and spine where you can’t get to it. Xen says it’s full of nanos that block nerve impulses. Shuts magic right down. Xen got dosed five months ago, and he’s only been able to make corridors for a couple of weeks. That was his first gate.”
Pyrite snorted, and nudged him.
“I’m fine now. Let me introduce you two around and then I’d better head for Disco . . . their next visit could be a doozy.”
Q was frowning at his chest. “That’s quite a spectacular scar.”
“Yes, and infections are no fun without magic. Rael’s choice whether I work to minimize it or not.”
Q spun to face Rael. “Have you got one too?”
“Yeah, but it wasn’t that bad and I slugged joy juice before, so . . .”
“Oh . . .” Q searched her pockets, pulled out the rod and handed it over. “Found this under a bush.”
“Oh boy oh boy oh boy.” Rael reached deep and pulled out a paper wrapped . . .
“Is that a sandwich from the Kitchen?” Xen swallowed saliva at the very thought of bread.
“Only because I love you.” Rael handed over half.
Xen inhaled the smell of fresh bread and took his first bite. Heaven. “Umm, tomatoes. Pickles. Oh my god. C’mon, we can eat while we walk.”
Pyrite did not launch Hunter into orbit, but a single kick convinced the wolf that horses were not prey.
The Renshe gawped.
“That’s a horse!” Jerry edged closer. “I’ve seen old pictures . . . I didn’t realize they were so big!”
Q snickered. Sam was staring at her, flicking occasional glanced at Pyrite.
Jiol hugged her, Karl thumped her shoulder.
Wait, he not blushing, is he?
“She didn’t get transported, she’s wearing clothes.” Mike picked at his orange overalls, while Cali hid behind him, peeking out at Pyrite.
“This is my sister. Quail Quicksilver, who has been hunting me for months. We will . . . wait, how soon is the end of the month? I’d better leave tomorrow.”
And what the hell were you doing out there without a dozen or two troops? Pyrite’s massively competent at keeping me alive, but still . . .
Xen kicked his brain back on track and introduced her around.
Q was predictably fascinated by Killerbite and she and Mike were quickly immersed in a discussion of magic metal, Karl hovering.
I never noticed that. And I suspect Q didn’t either.
“ . . . barbed fibers that untwist, slide, then twist together again in a new relationship that form the shape you want.”
Xen shook his head and look at Connor. “Did you find the Judge?”
The boy nodded. “I hadn’t realized how bad the mental modeling was. It’s like there’s nobody there, just a limited response program. It’s scary.”
“Yes. People should not be treated like things. They consider that an honor?”
“They can’t possibly know what he will do to them. No one would volunteer.”
Xen nodded. “And I don’t know if we can help them. It’s not even near my specialty, but I know people who might be able to undo some of it.”
Rael produced a loaf of French bread for dinner . . . it didn’t last long . . . and Xen opted to sleep out in the grass and leave his tree house to the ladies who were exploring Rael’s and Q’s bubbled wardrobes, and in the morning, he loaded up jerky and headed out at first light. No point in arguing with Q and Rael about them coming too.
A corridor a hundred miles northeast, then a gate to Q’s last link.
“How many gates are there?”
:: Over a thousand. A hundred feet apart. I can run straight through them, but it’s usually a three day trip. You’re tough than Q. I can probably do it two. ::
“Something in the vicinity of two hundred miles? Let’s take three.”
“How about we arrive rested and ready for a fight, instead of staggering in exhaustion?” The first cone touched down near the gat he could see. The second cone zipped over to twist tails.
:: Fast room. :: The horse’s ears twitched. :: I don’t know where the stable is. ::
The gate opened inches from his nose. “Back on Xin Zhong, I’ll bet. Oh well, I’ll make one. Let’s go.”
It’s that Time of the Month
The alarm caused a double stampede.
The sensible people away from the plaza, the poor fools who were supposed to do something about it, toward it.
Lon stopped a cautious three meters away from the carpet, Inso beside him, looking like he was ready to charge across and strangle Poobah.
“Don’t. We have to stop this slow attrition of our most powerful people.”
“Oh, look at that.” Lon kept his voice down to a bare breath. “We have an all new Poobah.”
“New Guards, too.”
Trust Ra’d to notice. Figures Xen would have a son-in-law scarier than he is.
The left-most guard thumped his spear. “You may approach the Judge and speak.”
“Yeah, and so far you’ve attacked every single one of them. Go away. Do not return.” Not that that will register. Yeah here they go with the . . .
Thump, thump. “You may approach the Judge and speak.”
A clatter of hooves, crowd noises increasing from behind him. Lon glanced over his shoulder to see if Q had returned . . . stared at the wild man.
Brown hair in unkempt ringlets. A beard, roughly chopped short. Bare muscular chest with a spectacular scar running from over his heart down to his right and out of sight under tight leather pants.