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 tree was fortified with 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.
“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.”
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 shook her head. To her inner eye the power was still limping along.
Ebsa cleared his throat. “We’ve experimented a bit over the years. In small groups, same sex works best. Maybe I should join . . .”
“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.”
“Oh yes. It’s quite amazing. With a dimensionally able witch in the group we could all see dimensionally.” Rael’s attention jerked back to the Priests as the compass collapsed.
Ytry stomped over to glare down at the Judge. “We’re done. Those dull spots are blocking our efforts to do much more than examine the mental modeling. Paer? Can you remove those hideous pellets? One knows how long it will take for the effect to wear off.”
“Yes, sir. And I believe Xen has something that will speed up the natural clearing of the effect.”
Rael nodded and pulled out her flask. “The new, improved, Joy Juice.”
Paer grinned. “Figures you’d have some. Ebsa? Go fab up some wine. I want to have this stuff on hand.” She was opening up her medical kit as the Priests all filled out, Hummer and Ajha with them. Ebsa followed, but Ra’d remained inside.
Just as well, the guards are starting to look less intimidated. I don’t think anyone bothered to introduce themselves or ask permission to muck around in their minds.
Rael cleared her throat. “Umm, you know, we really need to mind our manners, and ask permission.”
The Judge shivered. “So strong . . . they loosened up something in my head. I want it gone. I want it all gone.”
Ra’d stepped forward and eyed him. “That’s very nearly the most spontaneous speech we had from you for two days. Excellent. Perhaps they haven’t destroyed your personality.”
He stepped back and eyed the guards. “Order them to slap each other.”
The three of them—Renshe? Or would they be Han?—looked at each other.
“Slap each other.” The Judge’s voice was a whisper.
The guards raised their hands . . . wavered, fought it . . . traded slight taps.
“Good, good.” The judge collapsed onto a log section-seat. “Maybe those terrifying people can help us.” He wiggled his arms out of his orange overall. “Now take that thing out.”
Paer wiped his back down, applied a painkiller spell and sliced the length of the slight lump on the Judge’s back.
Rael looked away. Silly. All the times I’ve seen my own blood, to get queasy over someone else’s. Maybe I can blame it on the things this trip did to my poor tummy.
She felt spells flying. Debriding and healing. When she glanced back, Paer was stripping off gloves and dropping them into a plastic bag labeled Hazardous Waste. And donning new gloves as she turned to guards.
Ebsa slipped back through the door, and held out two carafes of red wine.
Rael dripped in a bit of hers . . .
It’s my imagination, they did not just gleam!
She screwed the lid back on her flask. “I guess I’d better lay in a supply of doctored wine before we tackle these people. In fact I may ask Lady Gisele about a insert of our own, with slow release Block-eaters.”
Ebsa grinned. “Just in case they catch you again? Yes, Ajki sent us a copy of your report. Wait till Isakson hears you let five men capture you.”
“I didn’t want to kill anyone . . . well, not then, later I would have been happy to. But please note that letting them capture me resulted in my finding Xen two days later.”
“Not that you knew that. Ox, by-the-way, has been looking like he had indigestion for a month straight.”
“Hey, I called home as quickly as possible! And Xen told them I was fine, the day before that!”
“I know. Doesn’t change the month you were missing, or for that matter the six months Xen was missing. The brats have decided that they like him, and even Ox says he’s a better man than he’d expected.”
“Ha! What he actually says is that Xen is terrifyingly powerful and expects the kids to be equally powerful. And that he’s a much better father than Ox had ever expected.” Rael reached for three crude cups sitting on a log. “Don’t sneer at the crudeness. I think these are some that I made. Three little jots, then I think we should leave them to work through the . . . side effects . . . by themselves.”
Ebsa grinned. “Yeah. This stuff is amazing.” He poured a half-cupful or so into each glass
Across the tree house, Paer stepped away from her last patient. “The wine in those glasses will clear the rest of the Semofazing from your system over the next few days. You will feel very drunk and lustful, so we’re just going to leave you alone until it all wears off. We’ll be back.”
She gathered her kit and walked out. Rael followed, glancing back to see Ebsa handing the glasses around. Ra’d grabbed the two carafes and headed out.
They climbed the slope up, out of the trees. The two new crawlers were getting underway, so Rael headed for the Junkyard. The old crawler had been wrecked, fixed by magical manipulation of the metal, re wrecked, fixed, customized, baked in a solar flare . . . the Vehicles and Maintenance division finally refused to take it back, so Ajha had permanently assigned it to Team Fifty. The customization had gotten a bit out of hand after that.